Childhood Obesity

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An epidemic is defined as occurring when "new cases of a certain disease, in a given human population during a given time period, substantially exceed what is expected based upon recent experience." Pediatric obesity has reached epidemic proportions when compared with just 20 years ago. The goal of this article is to explore this phenomenon and understand the potential consequences should this pattern continue.

Childhood obesity facts

  • Adult and childhood obesity have increased substantially in the last 30 years. Currently, 31% of adults and 18% of children are obese, as defined by their body mass index (BMI).
  • The vast majority of obesity represents an imbalance in calories ingested vs. calories expended. Other causes of obesity (metabolic, medicines, and other diseases) are very rare.
  • Losing body fat requires both caloric restriction and daily vigorous exercise.
  • The immediate and long-term consequences of obesity include physical, psychological, and economic issues.
  • Obesity prevention will require both a personal and social/cultural change in lifestyle. A large volume of current research will help clarify what will be most helpful.

What is childhood obesity? How is childhood obesity diagnosed?

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In order to systematically describe obesity, the concept of body mass index (BMI) was developed. BMI is the ratio between an individual's weight to height relative to their gender and age. BMI addresses the following question: Is the weight of the subject in excess of what is healthy for a given height? Generally (but not always), BMI correlates with the amount of body fat, but it is not a measurement of fat. An individual who has more than the average muscle mass for a given height (for example, weight lifters) will have an elevated BMI but clearly will not be obese. Nomograms for both adults and children have been developed to graphically represent the range of normal when measuring BMI. An individual is overweight when their BMI is between 25.0-29.9. Obesity is defined as a BMI greater than 30.0. Many web sites have calculators to measure BMI (for example, http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/bmi/). Measuring body fat may be done via skin-fold-thickness measurement, waist-to-hip-circumference ratio and neutral buoyancy (water displacement) measurements. BMI is not used for children under 2 years of age and instead growth charts should be used to identify any weight issues.


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Childhood Obesity - Diagnosis Question: Was your child diagnosed as overweight or obese? Please discuss your reaction and feelings.
Childhood Obesity - Causes Question: What are the causes of or reasons why your child is overweight or obese?
Childhood Obesity - Treatment Question: If your child is overweight, discuss the treatments, diets, or lifestyle changes you and your child have made.
Childhood Obesity - Prevention Question: If your child has challenges with being overweight or obese, how do you try to prevent it?
Learn about prevention of childhood obesity.

Childhood Obesity Prevention Tips

Q: I'm pregnant and have a family history of obesity. How can I prevent my child from becoming obese?

Medical Author: Dennis S. Phillips, MD
Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

A: A report from the Institute of Medicine this year found that one-third of American children and youths are either obese or at risk for obesity. Over the past 30 years, the obesity rate has nearly tripled for children 2-5 years old (from 5% to 14%) and youths 12-19 years old (5% to 17%), and it has nearly quadrupled for children 6-11 years old! We now know that infants are at greater risk for obesity if their moms gain excessive weight during pregnancy.



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